Thursday, May 10, 2018

Turn Of Century Literature

I'm not a long-time fan of H.G. Wells but I now know what I've been missing. The only writer of pure prose that is in the realm of Wells is H. Melville. Thomas Wolfe and J. Conrad deserve mention. Let me say that for all the convenience and facile enjoyment that technology has given humanity it has done nothing for our ability to write at such length and detail on the human condition. The literary acrobatics of this self-taught draper's assistant turned sci-fi pioneer are nothing short of amazing. It's like a dictionary having an orgasm. A Wordgasm! I could take any paragraph of Wells in his turn-of-century prime and copy it here as an example but I'll snip one from his 'Earth-based', socialist/suffragette novel The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman. Behold, this 5 sentence karate chop to your verbal thorax:

It has been said that Fate is a plagiarist. Lady Harman's Fate at any rate at this juncture behaved like a benevolent plagiarist who was also a little old-fashioned. This phase of speechless hostility was complicated by the fact that two of the children fell ill, or at least seemed for a couple of days to be falling ill. By all the rules of British sentiment, this ought to have brought about a headlong reconciliation at the tumbled bedside. It did nothing of the sort; it merely wove fresh perplexities into the tangled skein of her thoughts. 
And another roundhouse kick to your mental groin...

It has been said, I think, by Limburger, in his already cited work, that nothing so excites and prevails with woman as rapid and extensive violence, sparing and yet centering upon herself, and certainly it has to be recorded that, so far from being merely indignant, and otherwise a helplessly pathetic spectacle, Lady Harman found, though perhaps she did not go quite so far as to admit to herself that she found, this vehement flight from the social, moral, and intellectual contaminations of London an experience not merely stimulating but entertaining. It lifted her delicate eyebrows. Something, it may have been a sense of her own comparative immobility amid this sudden extraordinary bustle of her home, put it into her head that so it was long ago that Lot must have bundled together his removable domesticities. 

And finally, an elbow to your heart...

Her marriage had carried Ellen out of the narrow world of home and school into another that had seemed at first vastly larger, if only on account of its freedom from the perpetual achievement of small economies. Hitherto the urgent necessity of these had filled life with irksome precautions and clipped the wings of every dream. This new life into which Sir Isaac led her by the hand promised not only that release but more light, more colour, more movement, more people. There was to be at any rate so much in the way of rewards and compensation for her pity of him. 

Dear Reader, Wells wrote hundreds of books with this exhaustively precise and probing narrative style. It's not even legal to write this beautifully today. The famous works we know as movies or Orson Wells hoaxes are but a tiny sample of his library. If you are like me then you have to read and reread these paragraphs to try to wrangle the meaning from them. It's like learning to read again. We are out of practice at reading this kind of writing, at least I am. Unless you are a fan of William Vollmann, who is the last living torch-bearer of the elite prose writers of yesterday, then you are content with feeding your brain with verbal vomit in the form of staff writers' sloppy flatulence at online media brothels.

Wells commented that he wanted to write a story that would justify a woman smashing a post office window in protest. This explains all the detail he pours into each phrase. I finally reached the point in the story where the woman smashes the window (after hundreds of pages) and I conclude that Wells has accomplished his mission. I understand why the woman smashed the glass. No one, in any era, would be mystified. It's common for a character to do some rash action and the audience to say, "Oh, she would never do that..." In the case of Wells, this is not a problem. He has covered all the angles and justified his character's actions quite sufficiently. So effective was Wells at his prose that Winston Churchill credited Wells for rationalizing social security and socio-political equality, which were totally objectionable suggestions when Wells wrote his support of them in the dark ages circa 1900.

If only all writers of future-based fiction were so pioneering with their ideas.

Basically, if modern fiction is too transparent and sophomoric for your tastes then you are but a click away from the pinnacle of English literature in the works of elite writer H.G. Wells.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.